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Building Rotary's future starts locally

Ajoy Chatterjee of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, Rotary District 5580 district governor, speaks Tuesday morning to the Bemidji Sunrise Rotary Club about this year's theme, "The Future of Rotary is in Your Hands." Chatterjee spoke Monday to Bemidji Rotary Club members. Pioneer Photo/Brad Swenson

The worldwide humanitarian activities of Rotary International starts with local clubs, such as the two in Bemidji, says Ajoy Chatterjee, Rotary District 5580 district governor.

"It is not one single person who will change the world overnight, it will be a joint collaboration taken in tiny, upward steps," Chatterjee said Tuesday morning. "These steps will always require the contribution of many, many hands."

Chatterjee spoke Tuesday morning to the Bemidji Sunrise Rotary Club, and on Monday to the Bemidji Rotary Club in what is an annual visit from the Rotary District 5580's district governor.

"The job of Rotarians brings immense benefits," he said. "We enjoy comfortable fellowship with one another, and a great personal satisfaction that comes from serving others."

He cited this year's Rotary International theme by President John Kenny, "The Future of Rotary is in Your Hands," and challenged local Rotarians to strengthen their clubs through increased membership, retaining membership and letting the public know of the clubs' achievements in community and international activities.

"If you believe in Rotary," Chatterjee said, "and its power to make a difference in the world, it is the time to stand up to commit doing the job the best you can with all your mind, your heart and your soul. The future of Rotary is in your hands."

Chatterjee, born and raised in Calcutta, India, a retired paper manufacturer chemical engineer, and his wife, Hannelore, will visit all 66 clubs in District 5580, which stretches from northwest Wisconsin, northern Minnesota and all of North Dakota, plus western Ontario. There are about 3,300 Rotarians in the district.

Worldwide, there are more than 33,000 Rotary clubs and 1.2 million Rotarians.

Rotary International's largest project has been an effort to eradicate polio worldwide, with only four nations yet to become polio-free. After raising hundreds of millions of dollars for the effort, Rotary International is now raising funds for a $100 million challenge grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

"A special program that Rotary International has is Polio Plus, which has evolved everything else and which has the top priority above all other programs until the certification of eradication is achieved," he said.

"Each Rotarian is expected to be fully involved about Rotary's mission, programs and activities, to seek opportunities to further the aims and accomplishments of Rotary International," Chatterjee said.

"Rotarians are urged to help other clubs through their club to become more identifiable in their communities by personally informing others about what Rotary is and what Rotary does in order to improve and expand Rotary's growth and service," he said.

He encouraged the local clubs to develop a program that crosses through all four Rotary avenues of service -- club, community, vocational and international.

And he talked of building membership through recruiting new members, offering extension to educate members and a program to retain members.

"Rotary International's programs and services are designed to help Rotarians' needs in the community and worldwide," he said.

The local clubs are involved in a number of Rotary International projects, including an upcoming Group Study Exchange to Japan with both clubs sending representatives. Team leader is Bemidji Rotary Secretary Evonne McKinzie, with the club sponsoring Rebecca Hoffman as a team member. The Bemidji Sunrise Rotary is sponsoring Rosie Berg as team member.

They and two other team members will spend November in Japan visiting communities, their Rotary clubs and touring facilities that match their professions.

GSE and other education scholarships, plus humanitarian projects worldwide are funded through the Rotary Foundation, of which Rotarians are asked to contribute $100 a year. Funds are kept for three years, with interest used for administration, and then returned to districts for their projects -- many in cooperation with Rotary clubs abroad.

Chatterjee said his selected project this year as district governor is to build a school for 600 kids in a small village in Sierra Leone, southwest coast of Africa. Co-sponsoring the project is the Fort William (Ontario) Rotary Club.

"It is a school that is going to be built for the children," he said. "If we don't do it, those children will never learn ABC. They don't have the opportunity, they don't have the funding."

Keeping with the year's theme, Chatterjee said that "with a century of successful Rotary service, we are proud to be confident of a future in which generation after generation of Rotarians will bring hope to those in need and peace to a world full of conflict."

He said there are links to a chain joining the future with the past. "If that chain is to continue, every link in it must be strong. It is our responsibility, yours and mine, to forge solid links to Rotary's future. It is our responsibility to ensure that Rotary will be stronger next year than it is today, and even stronger after that."